Nasa confirms Insight touchdown on surface of Mars

Nasa confirms Insight touchdown on surface of Mars

The InSight lander touched down on Mars just before 8pm GMT, surviving the so-called "seven minutes of terror" - a tricky landing phase for the robotic probe, travelling at 13,200mph through the planet's thin atmosphere which provides little friction to slow down.

A model of the InSight lander is shown at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on November 26, 2018, in Pasadena, California.

As reported by Wired, confirmation of the lander's touchdown was relayed to NASA engineers courtesy of two "briefcase-sized" satellites, dubbed Mars Cube One-A and Mars Cube One-B.

An engineer smiles next to an image of Mars sent from the InSight lander shortly after it landed on Mars.

"This is what we really hoped and imagined in our mind's eye", he said.

NASA is the only space agency to have made it, and is invested in these robotic missions as a way to prepare for the first Mars-bound human explorers in the 2030s.

"I can't say how satisfying it is to be within a stone's throw of getting that information about Mars", said JPL geophysicist Suzanne Smrekar, the deputy principal investigator for the mission. "This one insane number will tell us so much about the history of Mars as well as the present day-that's what I'm most excited to get".

Catherine Johnson is a UBC planetary scientist who is the only Canadian involved in the latest NASA mission to Mars.

The In Sight lander is due to land on Mars in November. Pic NASA
Image Insight will help understand what is happening around the core of Mars. Pic Artist's image NASA

InSight's descent and landing, consisting of about 1,000 individual steps that had to be flawlessly executed to achieve success, capped a six-month journey of 301 million miles (548 million km) from Earth.

InSight's landing and all that follows from here on is the kind of knowledge base that can change the world's science textbooks forever.

It's risky business to descend through the Martian atmosphere and land, even for the US, the only country to pull it off. "It's such a hard thing, it's such a unsafe thing that there's always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong". Another experiment will calculate Mars' wobble to reveal the makeup of the planet's core. No other country has managed to set and operate a spacecraft on the dusty red surface.

InSight will then deploy its heat probe, a self-hammering 16-inch nail that will burrow down as deep as 16 feet over the course of several weeks. It was the first time the USA space agency tried to land a spacecraft on Mars since 2012, when the Curiosity rover arrived, and its eighth successful overall.

InSight will spend 24 months - about 1 Martian year - collecting a wealth of data to unlock mysteries about how Mars formed and, by extension, the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets of the inner solar system. "The details like thickness and composition give clues to how they form and the different paths they took to form the planets we see today".

Ultimately, these measurements won't just inform scientists about Mars, but about rocky planets in general.

Unlike earthquakes, marsquakes are a outcome of a cooling and shrinking world, says Hoffman, and hopes are high that there will be many marsquakes for InSight to detect. That will be part of NASA's next mission, the Mars 2020 rover, which will prowl for rocks that might contain evidence of ancient life.

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